If you’ve spent any amount of time on major travel blogs, it probably won’t come as a surprise to learn that the majority of the revenue for these blogs is earned by marketing credit cards to readers. Not only do credit cards generate a significant amount of revenue for publishers but they’ve also become engrained in frequent flyer or loyalty programs. Credit cards are often the quickest way to earn the greatest amount of frequent flyer miles or hotel rewards points. However, earning points and miles using a credit card comes at a steep cost for many. Additionally, many travel blogs fail to acknowledge that much of the population is unable to receive instant approval for credit cards. Thankfully, there are ways to earn points and miles without a credit card or ever stepping foot on a plane or in a hotel room. Here’s how to earn miles and points without a credit card.
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The Credit Card Problem
In the late 1980s, the first co-branded airline credit cards were introduced. It was also at this time that frequent flyer programs were growing in popularity. Today, nearly every airline–big and small–offers a co-branded credit card. Entire blogs and websites are dedicated to the credit cards that allow frequent flyers to earn points and miles on everyday purchases. The College Points also features travel rewards credit cards as it is no secret that they are often the easiest and quickest way to earn airline or hotel points and miles.
However, for many travelers, this increased reliance on credit cards to earn points and miles is not an attractive option. Additionally, for some, earning points and miles using credit cards isn’t even an option.
To receive approval for top travel credit cards, you’ll need an above-average annual income. You’ll also likely need a significantly higher than average credit score. This means that travelers with an average income and average credit score might not be able to use credit cards to earn points and miles. Additionally, the best credit cards for earning points and miles are issued by banks in the United States. Travelers that live outside of the United States won’t be able to apply for those top credit cards.
Finally, while you may receive approval for a travel rewards credit card, most cards require the cardholder to spend a certain amount using that card in a given period. This amount may be reasonable. However, that’s not always the case with some cards requiring cardholders to spend $2,000 in a month. With credit card welcome bonuses often out of reach, it may not even be worth the time and money to apply for a credit card.
Luckily, you don’t have to have a credit card to earn points and miles. There are a number of ways to earn points and miles. You might not even have to travel. Here are ways to earn points or miles without a credit card.
How To Earn Points and Miles Without a Credit Card
You don’t need a credit card to earn points or miles. While you don’t need a credit card, we’re not going to act like they’re not a great way to earn points and miles. However, for many, credit cards aren’t an option or aren’t an attractive way of earning points and miles. Here are 10 ways to earn points or miles without travel rewards credit cards:
Air Travel and Hotel Stays
We’ll start with the obvious option, and that’s either taking a flight or staying at a hotel. Most major airlines allow you to book travel with a debit card. Some even allow for the use of PayPal and other digital payment methods. However, unlike when using a credit card, you’ll need to be a member of the airline on which you travel’s frequent flyer program. In some cases, you can still earn miles if you’re a member of a program that’s partners with the airline on which you travel. Earning with partners is covered later in this post.
You will want to include your frequent flyer number during the booking process to earn miles or points for air travel. Finally, if you hold elite status or travel in a premium cabin, you will also be eligible to earn bonus miles or points.
For stays at hotels, some hotels will not allow you to book a hotel without a credit card. Nearly every hotel on the planet requires guests to provide a credit card at the time of booking and if not then, at check-in. This is because hotels place a security deposit ranging from $50 to $250 on a guest’s credit card. There are some hotels, typically hotels that are part of major hotel chains, that allow guests to book with a debit card. Keep in mind that if you use a debit card, there’s often a fee associated with using a debit card, and you’ll want to have enough cash in your account to cover the security deposit, the nightly rate, and additional fees associated with using a debit card. You may also be able to earn additional points for your stay if you hold elite status or book promotional rates.
The College Points provides an overview of some of the best frequent flyer programs and hotel loyalty programs. You can click the links above to learn more about top frequent flyer and hotel loyalty programs.
Earn Points and Miles with Partners
Major frequent flyer and hotel loyalty programs feature a variety of partners. These partners range from retailers to identity theft protection services. Depending on how much you spend at these partners, you may be able to earn a hefty sum of points or miles. It’s important to note that you’ll need to follow the instructions provided by the airline or hotel prior to making any purchases with a partner. If you don’t follow these instructions, the miles or points you would have earned won’t post to your account.
With hundreds of individual partnerships existing across the airline and hospitality industries, we can’t list them all. However, we’ve included a few examples of typical partnerships and links to the websites of major airlines and hotel chains listing their partners.
- Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards members can earn 1 point per gallon at Marathon gas stations.
- Delta SkyMiles members can earn 1 mile per $1 spent when making purchases with Ticketmaster.
- American Airlines AAdvantage members can earn miles with Sprint when they open an account or pay their bill.
- United Airlines MileagePlus members can earn miles at Travelex when they exchange currencies.
- IHG Rewards Club members can earn 4 points per $1 spent on purchases made at Apple.
Popular Airline and Hotel Websites Listing Their Partners:
- IHG Rewards Club partners
- Marriott Bonvoy partners
- Hilton Honors partners
- Choice Privileges partners
- Hyatt World of Hyatt partners
- JetBlue TrueBlue partners
- Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan partners
- United Airlines MileagePlus partners
- Delta Air Lines SkyMiles partners
- American Airlines AAdvantage partners
- Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards partners
- Spirit FREE Spirit partners
- Frontier myFrontier partners
This is the easiest and cheapest way to earn points or miles. However, it’s also the least consistent way. Promotions run at the discretion of the airline or hotel. It’s difficult to predict when an airline or hotel will run a promotion, and the promotion that’s offered may not be all that valuable. Additionally, promotions often require you to spend money to earn points or miles.
Nevertheless, promotions are usually a great and cheap way to rack up some points without having to do much on your end. For example, airlines and hotels may offer members 500, 1,000, or more points for changing your password or updating your contact information. Other promotions may be as simple as booking a single flight, which in turn allows you to earn double miles on that flight.
For travelers interested in earning points or miles via promotions, you’ll want to sign-up to receive promotional updates from airlines and hotels. Following an airline or hotel on social media is also a great way to stay up to date with the latest promotions. Finally, some airlines and hotels don’t advertise promotions and instead require members to check their accounts to see if they’re targeted for a promotion.
You can earn points and miles by shopping online using an airline’s shopping portal. A number of airlines offer shopping portals, including American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, and United Airlines. It’s a great way to earn points or miles for everyday purchases without using an airline’s co-branded credit cards.
For example, if you’re looking to earn American Airlines AAdvantage miles and are a fan of J.Crew’s Madewell brand, you can earn 2 miles per dollar spent at Madewell through the American Airlines shopping portal. This is just one example with hundreds of retailers on American Airlines’ shopping portal. Below you’ll find links to other airline shopping portals:
Dining Programs and Portals
Another popular and easy way to earn points and miles without a co-branded travel rewards credit card, you can earn points or miles at major airlines and hotel chains at thousands of restaurants across the globe. There are a number of airlines and hotel chains that offer dining programs as part of their loyalty programs. While these programs are free to join and open to all program members, you have to enroll in an airline or hotel chain’s dining out program to start earning points or miles at restaurants.
Once you’ve linked a frequent flyer or hotel loyalty program to the airline or hotel’s dining program, you’ll need to link one or more credit or debit cards. Then, find a restaurant that participates in your preferred dining program and use a card that’s linked to your account to pay for your meal. When you use a linked debit or credit card at participating restaurants, you’ll earn points or miles. It’s that simple.
For example, if you were looking to earn additional Delta SkyMiles, you would first enroll in the Delta SkyMiles Dining Program. Once you enroll in the SkyMiles Dining Program, you’ll need to link a debit or credit card. Then, you can use the SkyMiles Dining Program website to locate participating restaurants around you. Finally, head over to the restaurant and pay using a linked card. You’ll earn a minimum of 1 SkyMiles per $2 spent at participating restaurants. However, SkyMiles Select and SkyMiles VIP members will earn additional points per dollar spent.
Airline and Hotel Dining Programs
- IHG Rewards Club dining program
- Marriott Bonvoy dining program
- Hilton Honors dining program
- Hyatt World of Hyatt dining program
- Alaska Airlines dining program
- American Airlines dining program
- Delta Air Lines dining program
- JetBlue dining program
- United Airlines dining program
- Southwest Airlines dining program
Buy Points and Miles
This is the easiest way to earn points and miles. Many airlines and hotels let you buy miles or points directly from their website. Some may consider this cheating. Still, it’s completely legal and often encouraged by airlines and hotels as it generates a lot of revenue for them.
The College Points offers a complete guide to buying points and miles, including a list of top airlines that allow you to purchase frequent flyer miles or points. You can see this guide by clicking this link.
Airline Debit Cards
Yes, co-branded debit cards do exist. However, there aren’t many on the market. The most popular airline debit card is SunTrust bank’s Delta SkyMiles World debit card. Currently, the Delta SkyMiles debit card is offering a 5,000 SkyMiles welcome bonus after you use your debit card to make a purchase. Additionally, you’ll earn 1 SkyMiles per every $2 spent using your debit card. As is the case with almost every debit card, it doesn’t come with any benefits. While it doesn’t come with any benefits, you’ll still be required to pay an annual fee of $95.
There are a few other products that include debit cards that allow you to earn miles or points when you use your account to pay bills. With dozens of these programs, it’s best to check with your bank and other local banks to see if they offer any products that allow you to earn miles without needing to undergo a credit check. Keep in mind, even when you use a debit card as opposed to a credit card to pay your bills, you may incur a fee. Nonetheless, you’ll still earn points and miles.
Online surveys are one of our least favorite ways to earn points or miles. They can be very time consuming and yet, yield little in value. Nonetheless, online surveys are another option for earning points or miles without a credit card.
Not every airline or hotel chain allows members to earn frequent flyer miles or loyalty program points via surveys. The airlines and hotel chains that do allow members to earn via online surveys may restrict how many surveys a member can fill out in a given time or even target select members. Below you’ll find a list of popular loyalty programs that allow members to earn points or miles by filling out online surveys:
Earn Points and Miles Using Mobile Apps
There are a variety of mobile apps for iPhone and Android that allow you to earn points or miles. Some of these apps allow you to earn miles and points with airlines or hotels while other apps award you the apps own points or miles, which can then be redeemed with other partners.
One of the most popular mobile apps which allows you to earn miles is the United MileagePlus X app. The MileagePlus X app allows members to see the ways in which they can earn MileagePlus miles at local restaurants and retailers both in-person and online. The app also allows members to earn miles on gift card purchases within the app. Two other popular apps include the Frequent Flyer app, which awards points for sharing your location and the Miles app, which awards miles for using rideshare platforms. This might not be the most effective way to earn points or miles but, since you’re likely already using your phone, you might as well earn points and miles at the same time.
Earning Points and Miles with a Credit Card
So, maybe you’re ready to start using credit cards to earn points and miles. That’s great. As previously mentioned, credit cards are a fantastic way to earn a lot of points or miles quickly and, depending on the cardholder, cheaply. But, for those of you who are new to the world of credit cards, there are a few things you should know before going wild and applying for every credit card known to humankind.
First and foremost, know which cards fit your profile. Sure, we’d all love to be American Express Platinum Cardholders, but it’s a premium credit card for a reason. For one, you’ll need an income that’s both stable and above the median individual income. Second, even if you have a consistent and steady income and make 10 figures, you’re not guaranteed approval for the Platinum Card. You’re also going to need an exceptional credit score. Finally, let’s say you’re making $60,000 a year, have a 792 credit score, and end up receiving the Platinum Card. Congrats, it’s a fantastic credit card, but you’ll need to put $550 aside each year just to have the card. Basically, what we’re getting at is just because you’re likely to be approved for a credit card doesn’t mean you should apply for a credit card
When we say know which cards fit your profile, we essentially mean that you’ll want to know the credit cards that make the most sense for your lifestyle, income, credit score, etc. If you’re a college kid with a stable job off-campus and a fair credit score, you’re going to want to consider the Discover It credit card or another similar student credit card. If you’re a recent graduate with an entry-level job that pays reasonably well but doesn’t allow you the free time to travel all that much, rather than apply for an airline’s co-branded credit card, you’ll want a card like the American Express Green Card or the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card. Maybe you’re getting up there in years, have a job that pays six figures, and you have time to bring your spouse on long vacations. In that case, you might be the perfect fit for the American Express Platinum Card or the Chase Sapphire Reserve Card. Again, which cards are best for you depends entirely on who you are and how you live
Finally, and maybe most importantly, know your limits. Just because you’ve been approved for a credit card with a $10,000 line of credit that’s offering a sign-up bonus of 60,000 points after spending $4,000 in three months doesn’t mean you should spend $4,000 or $10,000 using that card. It’s never a good idea to carry a balance on a credit card. If you overlook your ability to pay off your credit card each statement cycle in favor of attempting to achieve a card’s sign-up bonus, you’ll likely end up with a balance on your card. Having a balance on your credit card is debt, and it’s debt on which you’ll be charged interest
So, you don’t actually need a credit card to earn points and miles. There are at least 10 ways we know of that allow you to earn points or miles without having a co-branded travel rewards credit card. Second, if you’re ready to make the move to credit cards as your primary way of earning points and miles, you’ll want to know which cards make the most sense for your lifestyle and budget, and you’ll want to know your limit.